In banning Russian coal imports from August onward, the European Union has finally broken the “energy taboo” that had beset its discussions of punitive sanctions against Russia for the war in Ukraine. Yet, the coal ban is not going to hit Russia’s economy very hard. With the clock now ticking as Russia prepares its next offensive in eastern Ukraine, Europe should press ahead and move swiftly toward measures that target Russian oil imports.
Western sanctions adopted against Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine have been unprecedented in both scale and scope. They have also been insufficient. Russia’s economy has not crumbled, and the ruble has even recovered to its pre-war level. The key reason why these sanctions against Russia have largely missed their mark is because they had a significant blind spot: Energy exports from Russia to Europe were not targeted.
Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom were the first to boycott Russian energy imports in late February and early March. Yet, their sanctions remained largely symbolic, chiefly because they do not import Russian energy in large quantities. The U.S. imported less than 5 percent of its oil from Russia. The U.K. has given itself until the end of the year to ban Russian oil imports and said it’s only “exploring” options to end natural gas imports from Russia.